When I first got to Cambridge last September, my sister stayed with me for a while to help me settle in. We heard that Fitzbillies (51-52 Trumpington Street, CB2 1RG), a bakery and café near Pembroke College, was famous for their Chelsea buns, which are basically sticky buns. Intrigued, we stopped by to try one, and then went outside to eat it while we went down Pembroke Street (which, by the way, was a terrible idea because Pembroke Street’s narrow and slanted sidewalks wreaked havoc on my shoulders).
The counter was at the perfect height for viewing the buns. We bought one bun (1.90) to split, and after two bites in, we both decided that it was very sweet, and would go great with coffee. Really, really dark coffee. This would have dissuaded us from going back to Fitzbillies, but we decided to try out their afternoon tea (18.00) anyway. Because my sister and I love afternoon tea. I mean, how could you not? Sandwiches? Pastries? Scones? CLOTTED CREAM?
YES, ALL CAPS. Clotted cream is one of those things you can’t get in New York unless you do high tea somewhere fancy, because they import it from Devonshire. You can also make your own clotted cream, but that requires twelve hours of oven time. I’m not joking.
Where was I? Right, Fitzbillies afternoon tea. My sister and I tried it out, and the sandwiches were not bad, while the pastries were good, not great. But that scone. That clotted cream. Oh. My. Yes. This. All of this. Can I freeze clotted cream and bring it on a transatlantic flight? I don’t know, but dangit I’m going to scour the internet until I find a suitable answer.
I raved about these scones and clotted cream for months to the ladies who live on my floor, until some of them decided to head down there with me. For, um, important blog research. As we went down King’s Parade to Trumpington Street, the ground got a bit bumpy.
I told myself that my butt would hurt, but it would be worth it.
We entered Fitzbillies through the bakery entrance. Yes, there are two entrances. One is flat and leads into the bakery, which then leads into a café area. The other has two steps and leads into a coffee shop. If you want to go to the coffee shop part, just go through the bakery entrance, up to the café area, and then make a right and you’ll be in the coffee shop. Yup. They thought of that. The coffee shop has a large communal table and a couple of smaller ones. Feel free to camp out and work until they close (which, like many Cambridge businesses, is at 6pm on weekdays). The bakery area sells pastries, Kandula tea (my fave British brand), preserves, and packaged shortbread cookies:
Oh, and how could I forget, these lovely scones:
Fitzbillies renovated a few years ago, and so I noticed a couple of weird-looking ramps. One of them leads into the café area:
Note: Whenever you see a weird-looking ramp, that means that there used to be a step there. That means when Fitzbillies renovated, they got rid of the step and put in a ramp. Boo-yah.
The café is well-lit, has lots of tables, and some pretty mug decorations:
My floormates and I were seated at a table, and we began to plot out what to get. They knew I would be taking pictures of everything they ordered, and I thanked them in advance for assisting my blog research. Food-related research is a sorely underfunded field of study and any contributions to the “please don’t make Val order more than she can eat because there is no way her stomach is big enough for that” fund are very much appreciated. Two floormates ordered the cream tea (6.30), one ordered a cheese scone with butter (2.20) and tea (2.50), and I ordered a decaf flat white (2.60) with a slice of coffee walnut cake (3.70). I was going to get my scone to go and eat it for breakfast the next day.
Our tea came first, along with my flat white:
It was strong, a bit bitter, and fantastic. Perhaps now I’d be capable of eating a Chelsea bun, but I had a slice of cake heading in my general direction, so I decided against ordering one. I’ve had Fitzbillies’ hot chocolate before, and I liked it a lot. It’s on the sweet side, a bit milky, but great to drink with a (lavender) shortbread cookie on the side.
Once the food arrived, my floormates had to wait a couple of minutes while I took pictures. Many of them had not eaten breakfast. It was nearing 12:30. They were staring at scones. I was waiting for my camera to turn on. Have I mentioned how wonderful and patient my floormates are? I should bake them some cookies (for more blog research, of course).
The cheese scone! I’m not one for savory scones, but my floormate was nice enough to let me try a bite, and it was pretty tasty.
If you’re going to go to Fitzbillies, do not be tempted by the afternoon tea. The cream tea is a third of the price, and is comprised of the best parts of afternoon tea: the scone and clotted cream. The raspberry jam is good too, but it’s easier to get good jam than good clotted cream. Seriously, the scone, as delightful as it is, is essentially a vehicle for clotted cream. One of my floormates (not at the table) told me that when she went to Fitzbillies and finished her scone, she just ate the clotted cream straight. Respect. Was this a whole paragraph on clotted cream? Yes. I have no shame.
Then came the coffee walnut cake:
It looks pretty, and I wanted to like it so badly, but I couldn’t. The icing had no discernible flavor (unless sugar is a flavor), and the cake itself was a bit dry (and also sweet). It did not taste like coffee. I know that there’s coffee cake that isn’t supposed to taste like coffee, but that you eat while drinking coffee, and then there’s coffee cake that’s supposed to have a coffee flavor to it. I think this was supposed to be the latter. Strike two on non-scone desserts, Fitzbillies. Disappointed, I thought about the scone I would eat for breakfast the next day. We finished eating and got the check.
But before we left, bathroom. The Fitzbillies bathroom lacks handrails, but my rigid frame chair can just barely fit into the stall. It’s a tight space, but I can manage. People in powerchairs and people who need handrails will have a much harder time using the restroom. That said, you might not want to drink the entire pot of tea while you’re at Fitzbillies unless you have a strong bladder or can race to the Grand Arcade (up the treacherous path of Pembroke Street) in time. Alternatively, if you’re a Cambridge student, you might be able to use the bathroom in the Mill Lane Lecture Rooms (on Mill Lane and just a 2-3-minute wheel from Fitzbillies). I’d fault them for not renovating the bathrooms well enough, but I’m not sure how much bathroom space they had to work with to start.
Before my floormates and I left, I bought my scone with cream and jam to go (3.10). I’m very excited for breakfast tomorrow!
Entrances: There are two of them! The entrance to the bakery is flat, the entrance to the coffee shop (where you’d get work done) has two steps. The bakery with the flat entrance can lead to the coffee shop.
Bathroom: Not technically accessible, but a lightweight rigid frame wheelchair can fit into the stall.
Counter: Perfect height to see pastries, scones, and Chelsea buns.
Coffee: Fabulous, Tea: Kandula, Hot Chocolate (not pictured): milky and delightful.
Pastries: Disappointing cake, amazing cream tea.
Other: Don’t bother with the afternoon tea. Just get the cream tea. Unless you adore sweet things. Then get the Chelsea bun and a cup of coffee. If I manage to smuggle scones and cream across the Atlantic, I’ll let you know. Or not. I think that would be illegal now that I think of it. Drat.
For more information: http://www.fitzbillies.com/ (just a note, their site is currently under construction)
Thanks for reading! If you like what you’ve read, please follow (here or on Twitter (@Access_Bakeshop) – yup, I’m attempting this “be more social” thing!), subscribe, or share to your friends on the social media outlet of your choice! My dissertation adviser just gave me two weeks to write my first chapter (which I decided to scrap and completely change and now have to do lots of primary source-hunting/research/everything), so you know what that means for next week? Yup, procrastibaking! Well, procrastibaking prefaced with a “Why did I decide to look through 500+ Latin excerpts of the word debilitas and its various forms from the 6th-9th centuries?” ramble.
See you next week!